Reports from Cuba: Burned dolls, buckets of water, and suitcases: End of year rituals

By Zunilda Mata in Translating Cuba:

Burned Dolls, Buckets Of Water And Suitcases: End Of Year Rituals

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14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 31 December 2016 — Before Silvio Lázaro moved to Havana from Guantánamo he had the tradition of burning a doll made out of straw and old clothes every December 31. However, in the capital he has replaced that custom with throwing out a bucket of water at midnight. Today, different rituals will accompany the end of the year, but everyone wants the same thing: for 2017 to bring better opportunities.

The National Assembly of People’s Power has just made a nefarious gift to Cubans. The parliament announced that the recession has taken over the country, expressed in a GDP in negative numbers: -0.9%. Cuba is facing a difficult economic scenario and the next twelve months are a mystery that few analysts dare to decipher.

Not even the bad omens and the austerity in celebrations imposed by the authorities after the death of the ex-president Fidel Castro, can put the brakes on the deeply rooted custom of the dinner on Saint Silvester’s Day, New yYear’s Eve. This morning you could still see many people carrying home tomatoes, some kind of drink and the little pork left in the agricultural markets.

Silvio Lázaro, 46, shows a special interest in celebrating. “My oldest son has everything prepared to travel to Mexico in the next few days,” he says. The young man will try to it to the border with the United States to reach that country and to avail himself of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

The family plans to change the habit of throwing a bucket of water from their balcony this midnight. “We are going to go out with suitcases and walk around the block so that everything goes well,” says the proud father. He does not hide that he is worried about the journey that his son will make and will even “light a candle so that the saints and orishas” will protect him.

A few yards from Silvio Lázaro lives a mother with a daughter who will get her degree in psychology next July. “This year she will achieve everything I’ve dreamed of,” says the woman, who works as a maid in a hotel in Old Havana. Her party tonight includes “grapes and cider,” which she bought thanks to tips given to her by some customers.

Despite the economic situation in the country, the mother of the future professional feels optimistic. “We have come out of worse things,” she reflects, although she acknowledges that during the last year it has been especially difficult “to buy food and find toiletries.”

A situation that could worsen, because as Raúl Castro clarified in his speech during the last parliamentary session this year, “it has not been possible to overcome the transitional situation we are experiencing in current payments to suppliers.” Imports of commodities could be affected by this delinquency.

The authorities limited the public dances that characterize the last day of the year and have emphasized the celebrations on January 1st, when the 58th anniversary of the Revolution is commemorated. On Monday, a military parade presided over by the Cuban leader will be the climax of official celebrations.

“There is nothing to celebrate, everything goes from bad to worse,” reflects Maurín, 38 and unemployed. The woman believes that “we are bottoming out” and for her family it has been especially difficult to acquire the ingredients for the end of the year dinner. Her brother, who is part of a medical mission in Caracas, has arrived this year to spend the holiday with his family.

“He does not want to return to Venezuela, nor do many of his colleagues,” says the woman. The doctor is greatly affected by the violence, the shortage of basic products and the restrictions of movement in the South American country. Among the few things he could bring on his trip were colorful garlands for the Christmas tree.

On centrally located G Street in Vedado, young people will also gather to bid farewell to the year. This December some have promoted a new custom to mark the date: having money in your hand just when the clock strikes midnight.

“That way it ensures that there is financial solvency for the next year,” says Daniela, a member of Havana’s Goth community, to 14ymedio.

“But it has to be dollars, euros or Cuban convertible pesos … with Cuban pesos it doesn’t work,” the young woman clarifies.